50 must-see TV shows

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House of Cards

This Kevin Spacey-fronted, David Fincher-directed-then produced show was a game-changer. The first, and we think best, Netflix drama was released all in one go, acknowledging and encouraging binge-watching. It’s the perfect show for it – gripping, tense and illuminating. It focuses on Spacey’s ruthless politician, Frank Underwood, and his wife, Claire, (the excellent Robin Wright) who will stop at nothing to get what they want. What exactly do they want? You’ll have to watch to find out.

Mad Men
We’re making no bones about it, this is our favourite show on this list. It reintroduced ’60s suave into popular culture. People started taking their stylistic cues from main man and advertising ace Don Draper, who we see battle his way through the decade as a flawed genius on New York’s Madison Avenue. Much more than a show for fashion fans, Mad Men covers topics including the myth of the American dream, civil rights, women’s lib and countercultures. Some say it’s slow. We say it’s effortlessly laid-back.

Hannibal

If The Silence of the Lambs was one of your favourite flicks of all time, then the small screen’s Hannibal will leave you glued to your screen. It’s packed with recurring characters from Thomas Harris’ source novels and cast impeccably. Hugh Dancy is Will Graham, the tortured cop on the trail of his serial killer doppelgänger Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). Sadly it got cancelled after just three seasons, but at least you have 39 episodes to look forward to.

Homeland

Did he, didn’t he? Was he, wasn’t he? The endless to and fro of Damian Lewis’ tortured (in both senses) war veteram was never really the point of the gripping Homeland. Which was handy, given his arc concluded in season three. After five seaons, Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon’s brilliance lies in their building of a female lead to entertain a smart audience. FBI agent Carrie Mathison, played by ths superb Claire Danes, is conflicted, impetuous, intelligent and broken.
This show is Barack Obama’s favourite series

True Detective
Like American Horror Story, True Detective is an anthology series, with season two replacing the first season’s detective duo – Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey – with new recruits Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch and Vince Vaughn. The umbrella concept remains the same: America is a dark and scary place, with crevasses that run deep and bloody. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

American Horror Story
There are old-school shocks aplenty in this show, which takes age-old horror themes and runs with them. Each series (which may or may not be linked) takes a core cast and puts them in a new scenario, with new characters. The first series is set in a house – haunted, of course – and has enough scares to turn your hair grey. Jessica Lange steals the show during the first four seasons, while Lady Gaga appears in season five.
In season 3, Denis O’Hare refused to speak while in character

Game of Thrones

A kind of fantasy-infused The Tudors, with the gladiatorial action (and not just inside the amphitheatre) of Rome, Game of Thrones is, in case you’ve been living under a rock, based on the as-yet-unfinished A Song of Ice and Fire series of books by George R. R. Martin. Its casual disposal of major characters throughout the first six series has kept fans enthralled and turned the Twittersphere blue in equal measure, all the while earning it a reputation as the most brutal drama ever to hit the box. If you’ve missed it, catch it. Now.\
The first ever TV series to be screened in IMAX theatres

Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Set in the fictional 99th Precinct of the New York City Police Department, Brooklyn Nine-Nine follows a team of detectives headed by newly appointed Captain Ray Holt. Among the detectives is Jake Peralta (played by Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg), who frequently tops the squad in collars despite his relaxed, carefree attitude, much to the annoyance of his more by-the-book colleagues.

How To Get Away With Murder
If, like us, your friends and family have been raving about how “mind-blowing” Netflix series How to Get Away with Murder is, now’s your chance to finally catch up. Viola Davis stars as a law professor at a prestigious Philadelphia university who, with five of her students, becomes entwined in a murder plot. The show was named TV programme of the year by the American Film Institute and has won countless other awards, so this should be on the top of your must-see list.

Empire
Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), a former gangster now turned hip-hop mogul and CEO of Empire Entertainment, learns he has a neurodegenerative disease. His life begins to cave in around him after his past sins come back to haunt him following his diagnosis. The series also stars Taraji P. Henson as Lucious’ ex-wife Cookie, the mother of his three sons. The third season kicks off in September, so you’ve got some time to catch up with the previous two.

Fargo
Each season of Fargo follows an anthology format, being set in a different era along with a different story, cast, and set of characters, however, each season is a part of a common chronology. The show is inspired by the 1996 film of the same name, written and directed by the Coen brothers, who serve as executive producers on the series. The first season won Emmy Awards for outstanding miniseries, outstanding directing and outstanding casting, and received fifteen additional nominations. It’s that good.

Suits
If anything, Suits will want to make you wear a designer three-piece to work every day. The show is set at a law firm in New York City and follows talented college dropout Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), who initially works as a law associate for Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) despite never actually attending law school. By the end of it you’ll want to kick yourself for not studying law at university. It’s never too late, right?

Orange is the New Black

After winning countless awards and becoming Netflix’s most-watched original series, it’s safe to say that Orange is the New Black is highly entertaining. The series revolves around Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a woman in her 30s living in New York City, who is sentenced to 15 months in for unknowingly transporting a suitcase full of drug money for a friend. Each episode shares a fellow prisoner’s back story, which manages to humanise the convicts. You’ll laugh, cry and be entertained, all in a single episode.

Girls
Aspiring writer Hannah (Lena Dunham) gets a shock when her parents visit from Michigan and announce they will no longer financially support her as they have done since her graduation from Oberlin College two years before. Left to her own devices in Brooklyn, she navigates her twenties “one mistake at a time”. The show’s premise and major aspects of the main character were drawn from Dunham’s own life.

Catch up on the classics

Breaking Bad

The menace of Walter White lives on some three years after the curtain came down on Vince Gilligan’s black comedy crime drama set in small town Albuquerque. The breathless, maniacal transformation of its leading man from quiet and apologetic teacher to murderous overlord is one of the small screen’s most tangled and intriguing journeys. The show’s spin-off show, Better Call Saul, has proved equally popular with Breaking Bad fans.

The Walking Dead
A possible Andrew Lincoln companion piece to a This Life marathon, if you really have a lot of time on your hands, The Walking Dead, the zombie-baby of The Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont, has undeniably had some of its thunder stolen by Game of Thrones. But before Daenerys and co came along, here was the undisputed king of TV shocks, killing off its lead characters with a gleeful abandon rarely seen and a commitment to destroying the nails of its viewers with some of the most tense set-pieces ever put on the small screen. Season seven is expected in September.
Actors who played walkers in the show had to go to “walker” school

Friends
Turning a ripe-old 22 this year – and doesn’t that make you feel old? – David Crane and Marta Kauffman’s epoch-defining TV classic still populates the screens of a million hairdressers around the world, even if no-one’s still going in asking for “a Rachel”. Famously, its six leads were each on a million bucks an episode come the final series. They earned it. You couldn’t find a more perfectly cast relationship dynamic if you tried. Considering there are no plans for a film, much to the dismay of fans, this is as good as it's going to get.
The sofa from Central Perk was found in a Warner Bros basement

Twin Peaks
Backwards-talking dwarves, log ladies and cherry pie: they don’t make them like they used to. Famously, David Lynch’s cult classic was canned after two series in the ’90s, after ABC insisted he reveal the identity of Laura Palmer’s murderer and the ratings subsequently evaporated. Now, with TV having finally caught up with his forward-thinking phantasmagoria, Lynch has an exciting 18 new episodes completed, which is expected to finally air in 2017. If he can get close to recapturing this perfect mix of the surreal and the utterly terrifying – hello, Bob! – we’re in for a treat.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Joss Whedon is now far better known as the man who birthed The Avengers, but before he was redefining the parameters of the modern blockbuster, he spent his time tearing up the TV rulebook. Buffy, televisual masterpiece that it remains, may have been about monsters on the surface, but underneath it established a new benchmark for TV character development and dialogue. And in Once More, With Feeling, its famous musical episode, it produced just maybe the best hour of TV ever made.

Entourage

It’s ironic, given that this Hollywood satire was based around the (deemed ludicrous) idea that anyone would ever make an Aquaman movie, and that if they did it would gross $113 million on its opening weekend, that (a) they really did make an Aquaman movie (starring Jason Momoa and directed by James Wan) and (b) the movie version of Entourage was released in 2015, to spectacularly average receipts. Our advice? Forget the forgettable movie and wallow instead in Doug Ellin’s hilarious TV original, peppered with A-list celebrity cameos and unleashing on to the world Jeremy Piven’s marvellously tyrannical movie producer, Ari Gold.

Fringe
Following the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December, what better time to revisit J.J. Abrams’ noodle-baking sci-fi TV show, Fringe? Like Lost, this is a show caught between faith and doubt, but, unlike Lost, it manages to not get itself strung up by its own sense of self-importance. With its unexplained phenomena, top-level conspiracy theoriesand occasional injection of surreal humour, it’s essentially the new(ish) X-Files.

The West Wing

Long before Frank Underwood walked the corridors of the White House, the cast of The West Wing were doing their thing, which was mainly walking and talking, quickly. Aaron Sorkin’s show shed light on the machinations of the US government and has a resolutely left-wing bias. The heart-swelling music and “good guys win” message seems a little dated now, especially in the wake of the darker House of Cards, but this is still prime TV.

Dexter

Orphaned at age three, when his mother was brutally murdered by a man with a chainsaw, and harbouring a traumatic secret, Dexter (Michael C. Hall) was adopted by a policeman who recognised his homicidal, psychopathic tendencies and taught him to channel his gruesome passion for killing in a “constructive” way – by killing only terrible criminals who had slipped through the justice system. Will he get caught? You have eight seasons to find out.

The O.C.
Even if you’ve seen this American teen drama, there’s nothing like a bit of nostalgia to keep you entertained. The series centres on Ryan Atwood, a troubled but tough young man from a broken home who is adopted by the wealthy and philanthropic Sandy and Kirsten Cohen. It was widely referred to as a pop cultural phenomenon and has been broadcast in more than 50 countries worldwide. Back when Mischa Barton was on the A-list.

True Blood
While vampire crazes in recent years (The Vampire Diaries and the Twilight movies) have been largely lapped up by teenagers, True Blood is a little more bloodier. The plot revolves around telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, who encounters a strange new supernatural world when she meets the mysterious Bill, a southern Louisiana gentleman and vampire. Throughout the series, other supernatural creatures are introduced, among them shapeshifters, werewolves, faeries, witches, and a maenad.

24
Ah, 24. Ludicrous, action-packed, terrorism-smashing 24. Popular on its initial release in 2001 for its real-time structure – each episode was one hour, each serious, 24 episodes – that saw Kiefer Sutherland getting through a really bad day. By the end of the eighth season, Sutherland’s Jack Bauer had been shot, tortured and captured 5,000 times. As it progressed, it became even more outrageous – and remember the action in each season all happens in one day. Fun, silly and enjoyable.
Every cast member had to trim their hair every five days

Boardwalk Empire
Gangsters, good clothes and good music. This is a seriously stylish programme, starring Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon and Michael Pitt. Buscemi is Nucky Thompson, one of the main men in Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Martin Scorsese is involved so you know it’s got pedigree.There’s a danger of style taking precedence over substance in the first season. Stick with it though, you won’t regret it.

The X-Files

Indelibly burned into the nightmares and dreams of many who caught it first time around, The X-Files, Chris Carter’s iconic TV series, boasts some of the downright scariest TV episodes ever made, and a central pairing who generate sparks off each other. David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder (the believer) and Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully (the sceptic) got together for a tenth season earlier this year, and it doesn't seem like much has changed.
The Hollywood Entertainment museum has Mulder’s office props

The Sopranos
The daddy of them all, or perhaps the godfather. This gangster show finally made a star of the late, great James Gandolfini, who is mob boss Tony Soprano. Tony struggles with both of his families (personal and professional) and sees a shrink to help him deal with the pressures. One of the first shows to have an anti-hero as the main protagonist, paving the way for the likes of Walter White and Don Draper to follow. Brutal, touching and often a little “out there”, The Sopranos is a must-watch experience.

Lost

The survivors of a plane crash are forced to work together in order to survive on a seemingly deserted tropical island. Sounds like a captivating plot, right? Well, it is. Consisting of six seasons, Lost has been consistently ranked by critics on their lists of the top ten television series of all time. Due to its large ensemble cast and the cost of filming primarily on location in Hawaii, the series was one of the most expensive ever made for television. Luckily it all paid off and became one of the classics of our time.

Comedy gold

Parks and Recreation
Similar in look and feel to the American take on The Office, this show follows middle-management council worker Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) as she battles against local government bureaucracy and her colleagues. It gave Hollywood’s current poster-boy Chris Pratt his big break, raised the profile of comedian Aziz Ansari and introduced the wonderful moustache of Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) into the public domain.

Seinfeld
This is the mother of modern sitcoms, written by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David (who also wrote and starred in Curb Your Enthusiasm, but more of that later). Famously “the show about nothing”, it was the blueprint for pretty much everything (good) that came in its wake – including Friends, The Office, Louis, and loads more.

Modern Family

Extremely funny, this show is almost the anti-Seinfeld in its warmth. A messed-up extended family (including sitcom royalty Ed O’Neil – Al Bundy in Married… with Children) get on with their daily routines and learn to love each other and life along the way. Take away the occasional schmaltzy moment, though, and you have some brilliantly realised characters in genuinely hilarious situations with some proper zingers of dialogue.
Britney Spears was once offered a role, but declined

Curb Your Enthusiasm
This is another ground-breaking show from Seinfeld co-creator, Larry David. Larry plays a version of himself in this improvised series. The gonzo-style camera work and lack of sheen won’t please everyone, but it does us. Larry is a simple man who likes things done his way, but keeps falling foul of society’s mores. There are more cringe-worthy scenes than in any other show, but it's hilarious.

Cheers
It’s a well-known fact that Cheers has the best theme tune of anything ever, so there’s your first reason to watch it. But once you’re past the wonderful opening credits and into everyone’s favourite Boston bar, it somehow gets even better. It’s a bar, with regulars and staff, which opens up the opportunity for all kinds of weird and wonderful characters and relationships. It made stars of Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson and Kelsey Grammer and the performances are routinely great, while the dialogue is quick-fire and hilarious. Has stood the test of time.
Norman was Norm’s middle name. His first name was Hillary

Scrubs

Scrubs is an American medical comedy-drama series that follows the lives of employees at the Sacred Heart Hospital. In this unreal and crazy world, intern John “JD” Dorian learns the ways of medicine, friendship and life. Scrubs received 17 Emmy nominations, in categories such as casting, cinematography, directing, editing, and writing, but only won two. It’s still a brilliant classic though.

30 Rock
Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), head writer of the sketch comedy show “TGS with Tracy Jordan”, must deal with an arrogant new boss and a crazy new star, all while trying to run a successful TV show without losing her mind. Loosely based on Fey's experiences when she herself was the head writer for Saturday Night Live from 1997 to 2006, 30 Rock received overwhelming critical acclaim throughout its entire run, winning several major awards. Plus we all know you can’t go wrong with comedy queen Tina Fey.

Frasier

Psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) returns to his home town of Seattle, Washington, following the end of his marriage and his life in Boston (as seen in Cheers). His plans for a new life as a bachelor are complicated when he is obliged to take in his father, a retired Seattle Police Department detective, who has mobility problems after being shot in the line of duty. Much like its predecessor Cheers, Frasier used an ensemble cast with storylines involving the central group of characters.

Amazing animations

BoJack Horseman
In a world where humans and anthropomorphic animals live side by side, BoJack Horseman, the washed-up star of the 1990s sitcom Horsin’ Around, plans his big return to celebrity relevance with a tell-all autobiography that he dictates to his ghostwriter Diane Nguyen. Strange indeed, but highly amusing. If you haven’t gathered by now, this animated series parodies Hollywood, celebrity culture and the film industry.

Family Guy

After 14 seasons, Family Guy has officially reached legendary status and is fast becoming the new The Simpsons. The show revolves around the adventures of the Griffin family, consisting of father Peter Griffin, a bumbling yet well-intentioned blue-collar worker; Lois, a stay-at-home mother; Meg, their awkward teenage daughter; Chris, their teenage son, who is overweight, unintelligent and a younger version of his father in many respects; and Stewie, their diabolical infant son who has adult mannerisms and uses stereotypical arch villain phrases. Living with the family is their witty, sarcastic, English-speaking anthropomorphic dog Brian. Listen out for A-list celebrity voiceovers.
Angela, Peter’s boss, is based on Rachel’s boss, Joanna, in Friends

The Simpsons
It’s incredible how this iconic show has stood the test of time. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 26 years, The Simpsons are a family who live in a fictional Middle American town of Springfield. Ring a bell? Since 1989, the show has delivered 27 seasons and a whopping 596 episodes, so you’ll need 12.4 days to watch every episode, back-to-back, without sleep. Best of luck with that.
The characters were made yellow to draw in channel hoppers

American Dad!
From the makers of Family Guy, American Dad! is another gem created by Seth MacFarlane. The series focuses on the eccentric upper middle class Smith family in Langley Falls, Virginia and their three housemates. Unlike Family Guy, American Dad! does not lean as heavily on the use of cutaway gags, and is less concerned with conventional setup-punchline jokes, instead originating its humour from the quirky characters. If you’re already a Family Guy fan, you’ll love this.

Bob’s Burgers
If you like your animated sitcoms funny, without having to think too hard, then you can easily get stuck in a Bob’s Burgers marathon for days. The show centres on the Belcher family – Bob, Linda, and their children Tina, Gene, and Louise – who run a hamburger restaurant in an unnamed seaside community. It’s not as funny and shocking as the likes of Family Guy, but the quirky characters make this animated sitcom highly enjoyable. There have already been six seasons, with two more in the pipeline.
There is a real Bob’s Burgers restaurant in California

The best of Britain

Peaky Blinders

This is a dark, brooding, bloodthirsty drama set in post-WWI Birmingham, loosely based on true people and events. The accents (even from the show’s star turn Cillian Murphy) are as dodgy as the characters speaking them, but don’t let that put you off – this BBC series is remarkable television. Watch it and immerse yourself in a rough and thrilling world or racketeering and grimy gangland violence.
David Bowie was an avid fan and even let them use his music

Sherlock

Making Sherlock Holmes cool again (kind of), the BBC’s Benedict Cumberbatch-starring smash hit has run for three series so far, with another due next year. The modern take of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of the brilliant detective and his friend/flatmate/assistant Dr Watson (Martin Freeman) was created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, who also oversaw Dr Who’s remarkable comeback. Should you get this? It’s elementary…
Each time a new episode airs, the cast goes to Freeman’s to watch it

The Killing
Kick-starting a whole Scandi-noir genre (Wallander can lay claim to actually starting it) The Killing has become famous as much for lead character Sarah Lund’s woolly jumpers as the storyline. It’s a gripping murder investigation, played out slowly and precisely. If you’ve seen it, there’s not much to go back for, if you haven’t, stock up on snacks and settle in – this is compulsive.

Luther
A dedicated police officer, Luther is obsessive, possessed, and sometimes violent. That said, Luther has paid a heavy price for his dedication. However he has never been able to prevent himself from being consumed by the darkness of the crimes with which he deals. Creator Neil Cross has said that Luther is influenced by both Sherlock Holmes and Columbo. We just like it because it stars Idris Elba in the lead role.

Absolutely Fabulous

The hugely popular show is based on the life of Edina “Eddie” Monsoon (Saunders), a self-indulgent PR agent with a desperate need to not only be loved by everyone but also to be still seen as “hip” in spite of her advancing years. Her partner in crime is best friend and magazine editor Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), a self-destructive libertine whose exploits make Eddie look innocent. If you love old fashioned British comedy, chances are you saw this back in the 90s. But fortunately it’s timeless, so no harm in giving it another go just in time for the big screen version!

The Office
We’ll never forget how we cringed back in 2003 when we first laid eyes on Ricky Gervais as David Brent. A first of its kind in the UK, the programme is about the day-to-day lives of office employees in the Slough branch of the Wernham Hogg Paper Company. Focusing on themes of social clumsiness, the trivialities of human behaviour, self-importance and conceit, frustration, desperation and fame, it became a worldwide hit resulting in an international Office franchise. If it wasn’t called The Office, it would be called “how not to be a boss”. Pure comedy gold, we tell you.

Gavin & Stacey

Gavin & Stacey is a British romantic sitcom that follows the long-distance relationship of Gavin Shipman (Mathew Horne) from England and Stacey West (Joanna Page) from Wales. After initially meeting online, the pair eventually move in together and become an official couple. However it is their co-stars James Corden (yes, Mr Carpool Karaoke himself) and the hilarious Ruth Jones that steal the show.

By Time Out Abu Dhabi staff
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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